Enumeration of islets by nuclei counting and light microscopic analysis

Lab Invest. 2010 Nov;90(11):1676-86. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.2010.125. Epub 2010 Aug 9.


Islet enumeration in impure preparations by conventional dithizone staining and visual counting is inaccurate and operator dependent. We examined nuclei counting for measuring the total number of cells in islet preparations, and we combined it with morphological analysis by light microscopy (LM) for estimating the volume fraction of islets in impure preparations. Cells and islets were disrupted with lysis solution and shear, and accuracy of counting successively diluted nuclei suspensions was verified with (1) visual counting in a hemocytometer after staining with crystal violet, and automatic counting by (2) aperture electrical resistance measurement and (3) flow cytometer measurement after staining with 7-aminoactinomycin-D. DNA content averaged 6.5 and 6.9 pg of DNA per cell for rat and human islets, respectively, in agreement with literature estimates. With pure rat islet preparations, precision improved with increasing counts, and samples with about ≥160 islets provided a coefficient of variation of about 6%. Aliquots of human islet preparations were processed for LM analysis by stereological point counting. Total nuclei counts and islet volume fraction from LM analysis were combined to obtain the number of islet equivalents (IEs). Total number of IE by the standard method of dithizone staining/manual counting was overestimated by about 90% compared with LM/nuclei counting for 12 freshly isolated human islet research preparations. Nuclei counting combined with islet volume fraction measurements from LM is a novel method for achieving accurate islet enumeration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Nucleus / ultrastructure*
  • DNA / analysis
  • Humans
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / ultrastructure
  • Mice
  • Microscopy
  • Rats


  • DNA